Two of the most talked-about rookies in the last decade took to the stage in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix to prove to the world that they deserve their Formula One seats.
Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin had varying degrees of success as they made their official F1 debuts under the floodlights of the Sakhir International Circuit in Bahrain, in front of a TV audience of millions worldwide.
Here we look at their paths to Bahrain and how they fared in the desert…
Who is Yuki Tsunoda?
Yuki Tsunoda is the first Japanese driver in Formula One since Kamui Kobayashi retired from the sport in 2014 with the now-defunct Caterham team. Tsunoda has had financial backing from Honda themselves since the Dream Project in 2016, Red Bull added their support for the young Japanese driver in 2019 when he was challenging for the Formula 3 title.
Tsunoda has methodically worked his way up the ranks of motorsport at an impressive pace. He managed to reach Formula one after just eight years of professional racing which is unheard of on the modern motorsport ladder.
The young Japanese driver is one of the most highly rated and anticipated names to debut in the sport for years, His name is known across the Formula One paddock after all his success with Carlin Motorsport in Formula 2 last year.
Who Is Nikita Mazepin?
Nikita Mazepin is the only current Russian F1 driver on the grid, driving alongside fellow rookie Mick Schumacher at Haas. Mazepin’s under a lot of pressure to perform and live up to his exciting and highly rated teammate.
His first performance in Bahrain was a worst-case scenario for the young Russian however, after spinning on his own throughout the weekend and crashing out of the race on lap one, turn three.
He’ll be looking forward to proving his worth to the F1 paddock and Haas at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in early April.
Mazepin has had his fair share of controversy before he even made it to Bahrain due to a social media scandal that showed him allegedly groping a female passenger in the backseat of a car at the end of the season.
He also punched Callum Ilott in European F3 2016, after a practice session incident, and some of his over-aggressive moves in Formula Two last season raised questions over whether he ready to graduate to F1.
The controversial young Russian has a lot to prove on and off the track In this challenging year for the struggling Haas team.
Considering his teammate is Mick Schumacher, Formula 2 champion and son of the Legendary Micheal Schumacher, Mazepin has all the odds stacked against him heading into round two of this twenty three-race calendar.
Tsunoda and Mazepin’s history together
Tsunoda and Mazepin have had multiple battles throughout their Formula 2 days. Sadly however, the fights between these two drivers aren’t remembered for the right reasons.
Mazepin did not take well to Tsunoda beating him to the win in the feature race at Spa last year in their Formula Two campaign. The pair had tussled on track with Mazepin forcing Tsunoda off twice at the end of the Kemmel Straight as the Carlin driver attempted to pass in the closing laps.
Mazepin was subsequently given a five-second penalty which demoted him to second place and the Russian then drove through the second place parc fermé placement board, perhaps attempting to hit Tsunoda with the board. This resulted in Mazepin being handed a delayed five-place grid penalty despite his protests blaming cold brakes.
Their Formula One Debuts
Tsunoda had a brilliant start to the weekend, finishing P14 in his first ever official practise session and then improving even further in qualifying to a fantastic P13 on used medium tyres.
He started the race well making up a few positions on the cars around him. Tsunoda slowly settled into the rhythm of the race and eventually managed to pull his AlphaTauri to an incredible 9th position after the dust settled in the desert of Bahrain.
The young Russian however, had a less than ideal start to his debut weekend. The first practice session went well with plenty of laps done with no drama at all, however, in the following sessions it would not be as smooth. He was one of the first drivers to find the limits of their cars as he sent the car spinning on the exit of turn three, foreshadowing his later performance.
During qualifying, Mazepin would spin in the braking zone of turn one bringing out yellow flags across the whole of sector one. This spin cost him any outside chance of escaping last position on the grid, as well as ruining laps for new Ferrari signing Carlos Sainz and Alpine driver Esteban Ocon.
During the race, Mazepin’s luck only got worse. He had a mediocre start which saw him right at the back of the grid again after just a few metres having been beaten off the line by Sebastian Vettel’s penalised Aston Martin.
Mazepin got through turn one and two cleanly catching a big kick of oversteer from his Haas machine that ultimately cost him the stability he needed to make it through turn three. The Russian span the car into the barrier and consequently took himself out of the race as it had begun.
Overall, Yuki Tsunoda outperformed and outclassed Nikita Mazepin at every opportunity at the opening event in Bahrain. However, the Haas driver will be hungrier than ever to get his own back and fight his way back up the standings throughout the coming races to try and close the gap as much as he can to his fellow rookie drivers.
It’s going to be a fascinating evolution for both drivers throughout this long campaign, who will come out on top? Will Haas be able to put in a legitimate points challenge anytime soon? Only time will tell in this extraordinary Formula One season.